Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Rafael can help partners stretch budget and technology gaps

 - June 19, 2011, 11:00 AM

In defense terms, few would question the proposition that the state of Israel punches above its weight. And the same could well be said of its defense companies. Take Rafael, for example.

“I am running a boutique [defense company], we’re not Northrop Grumman,” Rafael’s chairman Ilan Biran told AIN, pointing out that most of its activities are confined to research and development and low-rate-of-production programs.

That’s true, but despite having fewer than 7,000 employees, Rafael has built an impressive position in the air defense and air superiority sectors that has drawn it into partnership with the mighty U.S. group. Biran and his team are here in Paris to show off Rafael’s technology portfolio and to remind the world that it has ambitions in the export market and is very open to partnership in an environment of fast-changing military requirements. The company’s extensive Le Bourget exhibit features its air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, as well as comprehensive array of C4ISR and electronic warfare technology.

Currently, about 60 percent of Rafael’s income comes from exports and Biran wants to grow this to at least 70 percent. He believes that today’s squeezed defense budgets could bring more nations to its door, looking for ways to harness its technology to modernize their defenses. Rafael is very open to work-share partnerships and joint ventures.

“A key issue today is the fact that governments in many countries are suffering from a lack of budget,” said Biran. “Countries can decide that they won’t invest everything in active capability on their own and will instead share technology because no one can develop everything these days. But local production is also a big issue and we are happy to work that way.”

Having started life as a national defense laboratory, Rafael’s core mission has always been to use innovation to bolster Israel’s defenses. In this respect, explained Biran, the company has always had the view that its technology needs to be at least a generation ahead of whatever its enemies might have at their disposal. That means working to a five-year business plan, while also considering research-and-development objectives in terms of at least 10-year periods, and developing manpower and leadership capability with a view to the next 20 years.

Biran told AIN that proving the operational value of the Iron Dome defense system had been “a real breakthrough” for Rafael. He predicted that programs such as the David’s Sling air defense system will also be a game-changer in providing “the ultimate solution” to knocking out just about any ballistic missile (see main story)..